Ghadeer is 12 years old and comes from Syria. At the time she told this story (August 2016) she lived in a refugee camp in Northern Greece.
I am from Syria, my father owned a factory but during the war he shut it. There is him, my mother and two brothers in my family, I am the oldest. I remember a little from before the war: the first time I went to school I cried a lot, I didn’t like going at the beginning. I did not like going alone, even my brothers did not like it. So for the first two to three weeks my mother came, but then I learnt the road and I was sent alone and I got used to it, it took five minutes. But then when the bombing started, father sent someone with me. I really liked school and even when father was afraid I wanted to go. I said: let me go alone if necessary.
My father was always working at the factory he was never home but when he came, he never came empty handed, he always brought something: chocolate or biscuits. Before we had war everything was OK but with the news of war people started to leave, so fewer were living there. My six uncles left their homes and went to join the volunteer guard for the city. They made barricades on the road to stop anyone coming into town and they stopped us everyday on the way home. It was the community guard. Every community had a chief who was responsible for the community. This was the regular army. Of course we supported Bashir. I had one uncle who was shot in the leg, he could not walk, so he had an operation and they put metal in his leg to keep it intact.
When the war started my father said: OK that is it, we cannot live here any more. He planned everything and he did not tell anyone. Even his mother. He did not tell her until the last day, and then he said: I am leaving and she was very upset. Only my mother knew. This was three years into the war.
Before that I went to school every day. There was bombing but I felt confident about myself. It was close, there was bombing near my grandparent’s house. And the school got attacked by two rockets , I don’t know from who. All the walls were full of holes and it became so dirty. It was a Friday, so I was not there. They fixed it up again. But a lot of people were killed near the school, but I have never seen a dead body. And the first time I heard bombing it was another house. Thanks to God, but my uncle got shot near his house. He did not say who did it but I think the Free Army was shooting at us and they were responsible.
Two days before we left all my relatives went to Damascus leaving my grandfather and uncle who loved me because I was the oldest girl. When we left, we left them there. We were a big group, about forty five people and we went in three big vans. We travelled for one day and we got to the place where we had to walk to the border and we walked so much, around eight hours, that we lost a group of people and they were caught by Turkish border guards. The guards searched them and took all the phone chargers but left the mobiles. Then we met up again and then we walked again, six to eight hours. It was hard, then we took a break and continued across the border. We went to a very small house and after sleeping there we went to Izmir where we stayed in a hotel, and then from the hotel to a rubber boat.
We were a large group, forty five, and before we went to the site we watched the road for the smuggler who came to the hotel and gave us life jackets. The time were were supposed to get in the sea was very calm and we saw another group getting in the boats. Every section had a different boat. The first boat went at 9 am, we had to sleep in the forest, we waited so long for another boat, and we had no food, so children were hungry and thirsty and then people filled bottles from the sea, some drank but I did not drink it. Then the smuggler promised to bring water, we said: don’t go, but he went and when he came back after eight hours he had just one small bottle of water. And we said: please buy food. We are used to Syrian food and we never ate bread in our lives, we are only used to Arabic bread and he brought us sandwiches and they were empty except for a piece of cheese and there were just four or five for all the group. But then the men in the group went to look for water and they went to the nearest village and found big bottles of water.
Then the Turkish police came. The smugglers had told us if the police came, hide the life jackets and rings. We had been using rings as chairs, because there were so many and the police cut them up, because they thought we would use them, and the children were so afraid, but the police did not notice the life jackets hidden in the trees, so after cutting up the rings they went away.
Then we had to cross some wires to get to the rubber boat and that is when my mother gave a big bag to the smuggler to hold while we crossed, but he was nervous and threw it all away, so we lost all our food, and we were afraid because we had one woman who was hurt by the wires in her eyes. We slept two days in the forest because the sea was very rough.
We started with a rubber boat at 2 am, there were high waves in the sea and it took us two hours to get enough air into our boat for it to be strong, and in the time we were preparing it, the smuggler said OK he can arrange a driver, and after we had finally finished there was a man who was a bus driver and he said: I will try to drive and see if I can handle it; but he did not know before how to handle it, but then he became more confident, so we all got in and we were the best boat and our driver was the best.
We were three hours in the water and when we reached an island we found the Greek Coastguards waiting for us and they were happy to see we were able to manage ourselves and no one was hurt and there was not a drop of water. And then we were very happy and we got out of the rubber boat.
We spent one week on the island. It was OK but the food was bad. We did not go to Athens. A big ship took us to another island. And then we took a taxi to Eko, it took nine hours.
Eko camp was OK, we tried to cross the border. When we went to the border, no one was there and we were told it was closed so we went back to Eko in a taxi. At Eko I hung around with friends and went to school a bit, and played a bit. Then we came here.
There were demonstrations. We blocked the road. We were among the first people to do it. We put carpets down on the road and around 6-7 families sat around for two days. All the trucks stopped and no one could go through.
But we stopped because the Greek people said: we are not part of the problem, please don’t blame us. On the final day there was another demonstration, but we did not get involved. When they told us to leave we threw so many things away, because we did not know where we were going, so we lost so many things we needed like our toys and our winter clothes.We want to go to Germany. Father is there. He made all the plans and because it was very expensive he went alone and then he reached Germany and sent money and we left nine months later. He paid 1 million and 800 Syrian pounds for himself alone. We sold our house. We sold a lot of stuff. He plans to visit us here the day after tommorow. He does not have work, but he has a partner whose wife is here with us. My father has a residence permit and is starting to arrange reunification. We hope it will happen in November.
Living here I am afraid when I hear stories about foreigners who can kidnap children because they don’t have their own. And I have seen fights in the camp. We had one in our section with knives during distribution. One guy beat the son of another guy. So the Kurdish man told others to come and beat the guy who beat the Kurd. My mother called me into our tent. It came to an end and there was peace. But another time a Kurd took and Arab guy into their tent and wounded his hands. […] we are not safe here. We are not safe. Because my brothers are small I am afraid.
I don’t eat well because the food is not good. We eat what my mother can buy, we bought a gas stove in Eko we still have that and share it with two other families. We cook inside the tent.